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Currently, indie-rockers Sea Wolf are prepping their first full-scale tour in a couple of years. The cause for celebration is that the group has just released its third full-length, Old World Romance, which frontman Alex Brown Church and some fellow musicians recorded in Los Angeles and Portland. Since it's been three years since the group released White Water, White Bloom, we sat down with Church to find out what we need to know about Sea Wolf right now, as well as a literary triumph of yore.
1. Frontman Alex Brown Church recorded and produced the album himself in Los Angeles
Although Sea Wolf have gotten assistance from the likes of über-producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Cursive) in the past, Church gave it a go himself on Old World Romance. Not only did he save money, but he had enough time to perfect his songs, or, as he puts it, "let them marinate." One Romance number that benefited from the slow-cooker treatment is the catchy, heavily layered "Old Friend." "We did an early mix of the song in April and then I ended up coming back and doing some more instrumentation on it and redoing the drums," he says. "I reworked the drum pattern in the chorus, the one I had was making the chorus not feel so good. I was changing stuff at the last minute on that one. I probably went over it six or seven times in total."
2. The album features keyboardist Zac Rae, who's played with Annie Lennox and David Lee Roth
If the keyboard work on Old World Romance sounds particularly tasteful, that's because it's the work of Zac Rae, whom Church describes as "primarily a session keyboard player." The thing is, the sessions Rae has played on and the touring gigs he's taken are fairly prestigious. Notably, he's played contributed some ivory tickling to albums by Alanis Morissette, Annie Lennox, David Lee Roth and even Wilson Phillips, as well as the forthcoming major-label debut full-length by bluesman-of-the-moment Gary Clark Jr. On "Old Friend," he played some Moog and "non-organ" bits, but Church's favorite Rae contribution is on "Priscilla." "On the bridge, there's this crazy, low analog, arpeggiated keyboard part that he did," Church says. "And he did it all in one take, he made it up on the spot and did it. My debt of gratitude to him for that one. It sort of ties the whole thing together."
3. Church attended NYU Film School and uses some of his storytelling skills in songs like "Priscilla"
While Church says he has yet to apply his film studies to directing a video for Sea Wolf (he has a concept for "Old Friend" he has passed over to a friend), his education comes through in other ways. "I would say early on I was sort of into the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack sound, and I think that found its way into some of the early songs," he says. "Sort of that Russian music." The other filmic trait his music has is in its storytelling. When writing "Priscilla," which contains lines about "dead leaves in the wind" and a "cold misty evening," he relied on his skills when establishing the setting. "A lot of this record is inspired by my return to the West Coast," the NoCal native and L.A. transplant says. "It's kind of inspired by the Northern California landscape. That's the setting I imagined for that song, and it has kind of a linear beginning, middle, end, between the verses. The song is about a relationship that's come to a place where shit needs to be figured out if you're going to survive." As for whether or not the song is autobiography, he says, "I would say a lot of my songs, even ones that have some autobiographical stuff in them have been dramatized."
4. Church split his time between Montreal and L.A. for a while
Old World Romance contains a swinging, chiming number titled "Saint Catherine St.," which Church says references a well-traveled road in the French-Canadian ville. The frontman lived in Montreal off and on for three years, going back to California intermittently to rehearse with Sea Wolf. "The song takes place elsewhere," he says, "but the narrator is talking about going back there, to Saint Catherine St." As for his personal memories of living there he says, "It was a bit lonely, but it was sort of adventurous as well. I'd never spent that much time in before. I had friends who were my girlfriend's friends, but I didn't have any of my own friends. And it's cold. It's very cold."
5. They wrote a song based on an Augusten Burroughs book in 2008 and he mostly liked it
For the audiobook edition of his 2008 memoir A Wolf at the Table, author Augsten Burroughs asked Sea Wolf to contribute a song. "It was a big honor," Church says. "It was cool, because his instructions were to just do whatever we wanted to do." The result was "Song of the Magpie," which the frontman says he wrote immediately after reading the tome. "It's a pretty dark and emotional book," he explains. "The song that I wrote for it was more a song for me and for him, because I couldn't relate entirely to his experience. It was just what came out for me, my own feelings and my own reflections on my own stuff." The good news for Church was that Burroughs "loved" the song, at least mostly. "The book was about his father, who just wasn't the best guy," Church says. "There's a part at the end that repeats 'I forgive you.' I think for him, he was like, 'I don't forgive my father, but it's still a great song.'"
Old World Romance is out now on Dangerbird Records. Stream it below: